Savanna Harris, Staff Writer
It’s always refreshing to hear that the people in your community are helping those in need. What’s even better is when those volunteers are coming from your very own college campus.
Part of the Wingate University mission statement is to take advantage of opportunities to go beyond the campus itself and make a difference, and that is exactly what the students of VITA are doing.
VITA, or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, is a nationwide program that offers free income tax preparation not only to low-income families, but to people with disabilities, people who speak limited English, and to the elderly, as well. The Wingate University branch of the program was started in 2008 by Dr. Bob Threatt, Assistant Professor of Accounting. His goal was to apply the knowledge of the Business School in a way that would make a significant impact and comply with the service component of the Wingate mission statement.
One of the most surprising aspects of this program is that there are no prerequisite requirements to be a volunteer. If a student desires to be apart of the program, they must only pass three online IRS tests. Before the tests, they are given IRS booklets to study over the holiday break.
The entire process also counts as a three-credit course and a ninety hour internship. Students must put in approximately fifty hours of studying and preparation, and approximately forty hours of doing the actual tax returns.
It is very student friendly due to the fact that the volunteer hours are not demanding. The volunteers simply send in a schedule to the VITA headquarters in Monroe stating the days and times that they are available.
It is no surprise that this program has been remarkably successful during its ten years of operation. According to Dr. Threatt, all of the feedback he has received has been positive, and Union County particularly enjoys having Wingate students volunteer.
During our interview, he recalled a time when the IRS sent an agent to come review the overall performance of the student volunteers, as well as how well our branch of the program was running. The agent went as far as to say that this was one of the best VITA locations he had ever visited, and that he was greatly impressed at how the students interacted with their clients.
Luis Aguilar, finance major, and Beau Hildebrand, accounting major, both of whom are seniors and VITA volunteers, reflected on how VITA has changed their own lives, as well as the lives of those they have helped.
Aguilar described feeling humbled, and called to mind a specific memory with a client of his. “I remember helping one lady who had two little kids. Her family was very cute and you could definitely see the unity.”
Hildebrand gave a different perspective, going on to say, “I haven’t officially started working yet, but so far I’ve had a great experience learning about the tax process, and I look forward to getting to know the people I work with better.”
All in all, there have been sixty-eight Wingate University students who have participated in VITA, completing an average of forty tax returns each, equalling around 2,700 tax returns throughout ten years.
Our volunteers have gotten a total of $6,646,160 in tax refunds for their clients. In the fine words of Dr. Threatt, “It has been much more than I ever dreamed it would be.”
Edited by: Brea Childs